Over the past few months, Vancouver Public Schools has projected a budget shortfall of approximately $14.3 million in its 2019-20 budget. The latest preliminary recommendations add another $2.5 million in cuts that may be necessary due to a lack of legislative progress in state funding for special education and increasing employee health benefits costs.
Positions and costs in these recommended budget cuts previously have been funded through the district’s local levy dollars, which are now capped at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value—nearly half of what the district has collected in the past. At this point, state funding projections are not adequate to make up the shortfall in local levy funding and continue the district’s current level of staffing and services.
Special education costs
Even if passed, proposed special education funding bills currently in the legislative chambers still would not fully pay for the state’s basic education obligation to support special education. VPS subsidizes approximately $5 million of special education expenses from its local levy. The legislators’ most generous funding bill would provide approximately $75 million statewide—far short of the total local levy funds needed, estimated by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to be $350-$400 million statewide in the 2019-21 biennium.
Health insurance benefits
Next year, the legislature also is likely to expand full health benefits to school district employees working 0.4 full time equivalent or more, significantly increasing health insurance costs for districts. If the legislature authorizes a transition to the School Employees Benefits Board health insurance program and does not cover the full cost, it could obligate districts to use capped local levies to pay for an estimated $300 million statewide in additional expenses for employee health benefits.
Preliminary budget adjustments
With the uncertainty of state funding at this point, the superintendent is requesting additional flexibility to implement cost reductions. In total, the district is addressing a potential $17 million budget shortfall—depending on legislative action—through cost reductions and use of fund balance reserves for next year.
The following recommendations would reduce the 2019-20 budget by an additional $2.5 million.
- $100,000 – Closing the Jim Parsley Community Center pool, climbing wall and community room
- $450,000 – Reduction of five FTE professional/technical staff members from central office
- $260,000 – Reduction of two FTE basic education deans of students
- $1 million – Reduction of 15 FTE custodial positions
- $300,000 – Reduction of four FTE grounds maintenance positions
- $400,000 – Fifty percent reduction in district travel
Some of the staffing reductions could be achieved through retirements and other employees seeking different opportunities.
“It’s important to keep in mind that these are preliminary budget recommendations. If the district’s financial position improves or worsens, my team and I will reconsider these recommendations,” said Superintendent Steve Webb. “Our employees are valued members of our district and I hope we do not have to make these cuts. I am frustrated to be put in this position because of the inadequate legislative response to the McCleary court decision. Now, more than ever, we all need to advocate for a comprehensive set of sensible policy solutions to the ‘McCleary mess’ handed to us by elected leaders in Olympia.”
Previous budget recommendations were shared with the board of directors on Jan. 22 and Feb. 26:
- $3.9 million in cuts to central administrative services including $1.5 million saved by a 3.5 percent reduction of central administration and school discretionary budgets and a hiring freeze on non-mission critical employees in 2018-19
- $3.8 million from undesignated ending fund balance
- $2.3 million saved through a reduction of 23 full-time equivalent teaching positions reflecting the anticipated decline of approximately 450 FTE students
- $3 million achieved through a reduction of 33 FTE instructional staff and specialist positions not funded by the state
- $1.3 million saved through reduction of clerical support by 185 hours per day district wide